Sandy writes about our approach to ‘roughing it’ and keeping balance during our long journey.
During our Trekking the Planet expedition we have made it a priority to travel to some of the most remote places in the world to get students excited about geography. When staying in these remote places the conditions can be less than optimal. Like most people, I like my creature comforts and am not too crazy about dirty rooms and bugs. I also dislike sketchy bathroom situations for long periods of time.
So while we generally book three star hotels to stay in at night, during these remote travels, we have to rely on what we call basic accommodations. This includes camping and nights spent in hostels, huts, yurts, camps and home stays. Our time in these basic accommodations has comprised more than 70 nights of our over 350 total during our trip to date. If you want to save even more money, you can use a booking site such as HostelWorld to find a room.
In balancing our time between these basic accommodations and the other portions of our trip, we have used what we call ‘The Holiday Inn Model’. We coined this term during our 4 ½ month around the world trip with our daughters in 2003. After camping and staying in African hostels for a month, we thought we had found heaven at a Holiday Inn that we reached in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In reality it was a just a normal hotel but the fact that we were there after the prior month of basic accommodations made it that much more special.
Therefore, we have made it a priority to maintain an accommodation balance during this journey. This way we could move back and forth between roughing it and nicer hotel alternatives. Here is an overview of some of the ways we have ‘roughed it’ during our journey.
Mainly to save money, we stayed in hostels in Australia, Norway and Singapore. Hostels are a great place to meet people, and in every case we were by far the oldest ones. We had some great conversations with the young people who we met and even exchanged contact information with two who are coming to the U.S. in the future. One nice thing about hostels are the kitchen facilities and cooking your own food is a great change from looking for places to eat at night after night.
This had many variations, ranging from carrying our own tent and camping equipment (Australia, Sweden, Jordan) to being supported (Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Kyrgyzstan). We had all kinds of conditions while camping, from freezing temperatures in Kyrgyzstan to blazing heat in Kenya to high altitude in Nepal to swarms of mosquitoes in Sweden. The classic camping and trekking experience was in Nepal. From a personal wake-up call and hot ‘washing water’ each morning to afternoon tea at the conclusion of the day’s hike, it was those extra things that made this 12-day trek that much more special.
I have found that one way to survive camping is to have segregated clothes. I wear one set just for trekking and have an entirely different set for wearing around camp. Then, as a final treat, I save another set to wear the last day when we are traveling out of the wilderness. Accepting that you will get grubby and dirty and that it will be all better after a shower and a set of clean clothes makes everything seem tolerable at the time.
We stayed in huts during the Overland Track in Australia and the Julian Alps trek in Slovenia. The huts were another place to meet and talk to other trekkers, discuss that day’s hike and even learn about other hiking destinations. Huts are a little more basic than hostels, do not have heating and can have large sleeping areas. In Slovenia we stayed in several large rooms; one hut had a room with 30 beds and they were all full. Fortunately we slept at the far end of the room, so even though it was noisy the entire night, between the snoring and the foot traffic, we were somewhat isolated from all of it. And ear plugs always help!
Yurts / Camps
In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan we stayed in traditional yurts. We slept on cot beds and the bathrooms were a few minutes’ walk away. Other than that the situations were totally different, as in Kyrgyzstan it was close to freezing at night so we huddled up in long underwear inside our sleeping bags, while in Uzbekistan it was over 100 F (about 40 C). We found that the yurts were not too water proof, as it rained in Kyrgyzstan and it began to leak almost right away. Luckily it was around the sides and not directly over the beds!
When we were in Kenya we stayed in an eco-camp run by the Maasai. Here, we learned about the Maasai lifestyle from several of the warriors. In Jordan we stayed in two Bedouin camps, which were similar to our yurt experiences in Central Asia. We especially enjoyed the food and local music in these places.
While in the Amazon River jungle in Brazil we traveled overnight on a boat filled with rows of hammocks. In the rainforest we stayed in a private room with open air windows and the bathroom a few steps away. The mosquito net helped keep the bugs out but did not keep the vampire bats from biting my feet through the net in the middle of the night! I woke up to a bloody mess and had a stressful few days while waiting to hear back from my doctor at home (via satellite uplink) as to whether he felt there was any risk with the bites. Fortunately, he did not believe medical attention was necessary.
In Laos, Uzbekistan and Denmark we opted for homestays. In this way we got to spend quality time with local people. While in Laos we stayed in a village chief’s home during our abbreviated trek. We ascended a ladder to the living quarters as the animals slept below. When we were there it seemed that the entire village came by to greet us. We ate a hot meal cooked by the chief’s wife and slept on cushions on a bamboo floor.
In Uzbekistan our home stay was in a rural village close to the Kazakhstan border. We slept on mattresses on the floor and enjoyed great food while sitting next to a peaceful stream. When in Copenhagen we stayed with a woman who rents out a room in her apartment. As her English was excellent, we had some interesting conversations with her about past and future Europe during breakfast each morning.
During some of the times we have ‘roughed it’ during our trip, I have definitely been out of my comfort zone with extreme hot and cold weather, basic sleeping accommodations, bugs, bats(!), and less than optimal bathroom conditions. What I have discovered is that when we made it back to real hotels that we enjoyed more of what we had. When it is all said and done, however, there is nothing like watching the sunset over the Himalayas in Nepal, talking with other trekkers by a campfire in Kyrgyzstan or learning about Maasai traditions in Kenya. The only way to experience many of these situations is to put up with some discomfort but it has been well worth it!